Surprise You Broke the Law- Questions Interviewers Shouldn’t Be Asking

Nothing makes most people sweat quite like going to be interviewed for a position that they really want. And it’s perfectly normal for interviewers to flame the fire with questions that don’t have any ‘right’ answer such as, “If you caught a coworker using office equipment for personal use what would you do?” It would seem that anything goes in interviews, the interviewer grills and the unfortunate prospect has to sweet bullets with a smile.

But there are certain interview questions that are illegal since a seemingly interview question of personal nature could be a facade designed to cover up the interviewers biases against certain races, religions, or lifestyles.

But let’s be honest, if an interviewer asks simple question such as “Where were you born,” or “When did you graduate college” they most likely just wanted to innocently get to know the interviewee better. Nonetheless, whether or not the interviewer asks an illegal question in innocence, the fact remains that they broke the law.

It behooves interviewers, and interviewees alike to be aware of the legally established boundaries that dictate which interview questions are allowed and which are not.

The Laws

There are multiple laws in the American law books which were designed to counter the possibility of employment inequality. There are two main reasons for the abundance of laws that pertain to employment equality…

  1. There are multiple types of inequality that America employment law attempts to eliminate.
  2. Employment equality law is evolving, as it progresses more and more considerations are taken in order to protect the well being of those who are likely to be discriminated against.

Here is a list of a few of the primary employment laws that apply to job interview questions.

  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963- Salary equality
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964- Protects from workplace discrimination of those of a different gender, color, national origin, religion, and race
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967- Protects workers over 40 yrs old
  • American Disabilities Act of 1990- Protects the disabled

As you can see the law has become increasingly inclusive of those who would not normally have had equal opportunity. And although most of us would agree these changes have been made for the ultimate betterment of society, they can also make a law abiding interviewers job more difficult.

What Not To Ask

Here is a list of examples of types of questions types that should be avoided in interviews, because they are either borderline illegal or in blatant disregard for the law.

  • Age Sensitive Questions- Any question which implies that the interviewer is trying to deduce the age of the interviewee could be problematic. So, that includes not only asking “How old are you” outright, it also includes questions like, “What year did you graduate from high school/college?”
  • Financial Sensitive Questions- A question which implies that the interviewer is trying to deduce the financial situation of the interviewee could be problematic. This would include questions about whether they own their own home, or their credit rating.
  • Religious Sensitive Questions- this includes questions about their attendance of services, or religious organizations.
  • Health Sensitive Questions- this includes questions about the interviewees weight, medical conditions, medications, or time missed from their previous job for sick days, and disabilities.
  • Reproductive Sensitive Questions- this includes questions about whether the interviewee plans to have children, or has children, or is currently pregnant.
  • Citizenship Sensitive Questions- this includes questions about the interviewees’ citizenship, where they were born, or where their parents are from originally.

Disclaimer: the proceeding article is in no way intended to be an all encompassing list of what is legal or illegal for interviewees to ask. Please take this as a general introduction to the subject, and if you require concrete information ask a lawyer or someone else who is certified to give advice on the subject.

Author’s bio:

Rachel Walker is a FastUpFront Blog contributor and business consultant. Fastupfront offers business cash financing based on future sales.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. AvatarAlison Green says

    Actually, this a common misunderstanding of the law. In fact, the act of asking these questions itself is not illegal. What IS illegal is basing a hiring decision on the answers to these questions. So since an employer can’t factor in your answers, there’s no point in asking them and smart interviewers don’t go near these topics. (That said, questions about disabilities are an exception to this; those are illegal.)

  2. AvatarSean Coyne says

    Very nice article, I think it is important to realize that even though it is illegal to base decisions on the questions above, interviews can be tricky, the question “What year did you graduate from high school/college?” as you suggested is the kind of thing to look out for.

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